One of life’s little challenges, when you’re blind like me, is to find a fully accessible smartphone. Here, I’m checking out Samsung’s mid-range A71 5G phone. It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765, 6-8 GB RAM, 128 GB internal storage, a 6.7″ Infinity-O Display with Super AMOLED Plus screen (which I am told is beautiful), a 4500 mAh battery and four cameras. It has expandable memory to store all your great audiobooks and features a handy headphone jack.
First let’s see if I can set it up right out of the box without help. I plug in and charge the A71 5G and then power on. Success. The phone purrs to life. Now to launch the voice assistant. One great thing about Android phones is they let you launch accessibility tools from the very first screen. Samsung’s screen reading app is called Voice Assistant. Other Android phones feature Talkback. These apps read whatever is under your finger and vibrate when you touch something you can tap on. Other finger movements make navigating, reading and editing accessible.
The good news is that screen reading apps are launched the same way across all Android phones: you press and hold the up and down volume keys together for about 5 seconds. Then the phone speaks. It’ll give you several options as you move your finger around the screen. When you hear the word “accessibility,” double tap on that spot. (With Voice Assistant you double tap to activate items rather than the customary single tap.) On the accessibility page your finger will find menu items for screen reader, visibility enhancements, hearing enhancements, interaction and dexterity, and advanced settings. Turn on or off what makes the phone easier for you to use, including Voice Assistant.
To get out of this screen press the back key, which on the Samsung phones is to the right of the home key at the bottom of the screen.
Now the start-up screen voice prompts for a sim card. My thumbnail found the shared sim and micro SD card tray on the left edge near the top (phone face up). In the Samsung box, the small ejector tool is like a pin with an eyelet. Use this to feel around for a tiny hole just beneath the tray. Insert. When you feel some resistance, push a little and the tray should pop out.
The tray feels like it has three slots so I did need to look on Google to find out which one was for the sim card. The middle one. The sim has a notched corner so it will only fit in one way. Trial and error. Once it has snapped into place, slide the tray back in and, presto, your Samsung A71 5G is a functioning phone.
Next, move your finger on the screen and double tap when you hear “Get Started.”. This will launch the set up instructions. You’ll be prompted to connect to your Wi-Fi network. Then you can use Smart Switch, an app which copies what was on your old phone onto the A71 5G. The directions were clear and the process took about an hour. Continue following the voice prompts, giving permissions as needed. You’ll be told when you’re done and the phone is ready to use.
Android is a very accessible OS, and Samsung has been a leader in accessibility, so it comes as no surprise that the A71 5G turns out to be easy to use. The user interface (UI) is less bloated than Samsungs of yore. The Accessibility Menu is in the app drawer, which opens as you slide 2 fingers down from the top of the screen. Explore this screen for the word “Settings” then double tap to select. This opens a list which you scroll by sliding two fingers from the bottom to the top of the screen. When you hear “Accessibility” double tap. The first item on the next list is “Screen Reader.” Double tap. Then select “Tutorial,” which helpfully walks you through how to use Voice Assistant. For instance, to navigate to the next page simply swipe to the left with two fingers.
When you’re ready to set up security features go to “Settings,” then “Biometrics and Security.” The first thing I tried from this list is “Face Recognition.” I was prompted to create a PIN as a failsafe. Then I was instructed to face the phone without hat or sunglasses. (Pay attention to how you are holding the phone during this step, because later you will need to hold it the same way to be recognized.) Using face recognition to unlock my phone has worked pretty well indoors, but outside I’ve had issues with it more often than not, and was glad of the PIN code.
I was a little apprehensive about trying the Fingerprint Sensor since it is in-screen and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find. It turns out that it is voice-labelled. After you put in your PIN, a new screen will open. Move your finger around the screen until you hear “finger print sensor.” Double tap and then hold your finger down on that spot. I had some difficulty with this until I realized that I had to keep lifting my finger off and then putting it down again. It picks up the fingerprint bit by bit when your finger is not exactly centred on the marker. The percentage of scan completed was read out loud. I guess it was fun because I set up several of my fingers.
But … when I powered off and then tried to unlock the phone with any of my saved fingerprints, my success rate was about one out of 40. The problem is the fingerprint sensor on the lock screen is not voice labelled so it’s nearly impossible for a blind person to put their fingertip in exactly the right place. A suggestion to Samsung, and other manufacturers, would be to label this sensor on the lock screen just like it is in the setup screen.
I also tried setting up the phone to unlock with a simple double finger swipe. It turns out there is such a thing as too easy. Because now my phone unlocked in my pocket, opened a myriad of random apps and even furtively entered ten digits on the dial screen. (I can only imagine the bill if had sneezed and butt-activated the call command!) Worse, the phone had gone stubbornly silent. A quick reboot fixed all these issues and the day was saved.
The Samsung A71 5G is one of the least expensive 5G capable phones in North America and Samsung has done a very good job making it accessible to the visually impaired. So that’s a five out of five taps from me!